Intentional Mistake Due To Wrong Assumptions

  • Fonts in Use
Fonts in Use, Oops! | Yves Peters | August 7, 2012

After writing about Fenstern Zeichen, Herbert Marker’s delightful gallery of Austrian shop signs, it pains me to show you this miserable failure for contrast. This sign which I discovered only recently graces the facade of a restaurant/bar on the Friday Market in Gent, my home town. When walking around the city, I have been confronted with a fair share of ill-conceived or badly executed architectural lettering. Most of the time the mistakes in them were mainly due to inexperience or lack of typographic knowledge from the people who designed or installed them – misaligned characters, bad spacing, mirrored or rotated letters, incorrect punctuation marks, and so on. However this example is mind-boggling. Somehow the designer had to go to extra lengths to make this sign intentionally wrong. If you can’t stand pedantic rants, please stop reading here.

So what are we looking at here? The sign reads ’t Zuiden (The South) and is set in Mistral, the revolutionary script typeface designed by French icon Roger Excoffon (please ignore the dreadful Light version that was added almost 50 years later). Just like in English an apostrophe is used in Dutch when certain letters are removed in contractions; in this case the definite article het was contracted to ’t. The apostrophe is very, very wrong though.

right single quotation mark, defined as rsquo or ’ in HTML, as shown above. However the sign used for ’t Zuiden is the frankly non-existing upside-down straight quote shown in the first illustration. How come this logo uses a sign that is not even available in Unicode?

To understand the reasoning that produced this obviously intentional mistake, we have to examine what the designer of this piece was led to assume. The keyboard of personal computers is based on the very basic typewriter keyboard, only showing the single and double straight quote. Most text editors and graphic design software automatically convert those straight quotes (also called “dumb quotes” by type-savvy users) to typographically correct curly quotes. Because those come in two versions, left and right, the software changes them to opening or left quotes when preceded by nothing (a space or the start of a line), as shown above, and closing or right quotes when preceded by a character.

Yet the apostrophe is always represented by a closing or right single quotation mark. You must be aware of this and manually change it to the proper downwards pointing quote wherever needed.

Here the opposite happened. Not only did the designer of this logo manage to use software that doesn’t automatically change straight quotes to curly quotes, as shown above. He/she also remembered the incorrect apostrophes that are inserted by default by software that does do the substitution, and rotated/flipped the already incorrect straight quote into this doubly-incorrect version. This is extra embarrassing when the photograph at the top reveals that the designer cared enough to customize the end stroke of the “n” to make it look nicer.

The moral of this tale? If you are not aware of the proper typographic rules you are bound to be misled by the default settings in software. And I can be very pedantic, but only because I really care about typography. ; )

Read more about punctuation in The Sweet Sound of Punctuation, my article for InDesign magazine, republished on Creative Pro.

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  1. This being a logo and enlarged sign where little details are visible, I would also let the Z and u connect. Also the dent in the connected e and n bugs me.

    Posted by Dieter on Aug. 8, 2012
  2. Indeed, that’s one of the first things to do when using Mistral big: check all the connections because they sometimes show nicks and corners.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Aug. 8, 2012
  3. I work in signwriting, you’d be shocked (probably not after that) how many grammatically incorrect signs we fabricate, cut, route, install; whatever. The worst part is, if we fix it — they get a job they essentially hadn’t asked for, so they straight up will not pay.

    Posted by SM on Aug. 8, 2012
  4. Help me Yves. I too am pedantic about my type. I work for a certain company (who prides itself on design) and often spend my time going around replacing ‘ with &lsquo or ” with &rdquo, depending on the context. I do this off my own back, I do it because it is correct. There are dumb quotes all over the home page — it is painful to see. Recently I was told to stop because what I was doing ‘looked wrong’. Having explained the difference between dumb & smart quotes, I was told that dumb quotes are more legible on the web, especially in body copy. I don’t believe this is the case.
    This is the ‘standard’ for the company to adhere to. It appears some of us have a higher standard…

    Posted by john on Aug. 8, 2012
  5. Is it possible that the apostrophe is supposed to be a drop of water? Or wine or beer or whatever?

    Posted by Bronwyn on Aug. 14, 2012
  6. The apostrophe came straight out of a pinball machine. Crossing the ‘t’ is done equally wrong. Worse, though, the Z doesn’t connect. That is really ugly.
    Ah, and the ‘n’ is too open. But that is a problem with the font itself…
    That being said, why should there be an absolute *must* to use a font that is available in Unicode?

    Posted by Guus on Sep. 3, 2012

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